I tried work-life blending for six years. It sucks. It’s nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence and imbalances in life. Now let me tell you how I really feel.
The phrase “work-life balance” entered our lexicon when faxes reigned supreme: the 1980s. Knowledge workers, globalization and computer networking went mainstream that decade, and with it, the temptation to work ‘round the clock on the hedonic treadmill (i.e., the misguided belief that the more money you make, the happier you’ll be).
In response, first-world countries had a real first-world problem on their hands. The more connected their workers felt to the office, the more pressure they felt to “get ahead” by working for extended periods of time. With only 24 hours in a day, something had to give.
That something usually involved deteriorating personal health (since knowledge workers lead sedentary lives), strained family relationships, deprived spirituality, forsaken hobbies, skipped education opportunities and an inability to carry on a conversation beyond work.
Today, the so-called “boundaryless workplace” has become exponentially worse. We check email first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Our professional inboxes and to-do lists alert us wherever we go, often intruding on our free time. Leading corporate perks even include in-office dry cleaning, fitness centers and three gourmet meals a day, which tempt us to rub elbows with work associates even more, helping everyone else’s bottom line at the expense of our own.
Enter work-life balance. Although poorly named — i.e., work is an important part of life, not a conflicting aspect of it — the term’s intent is right on the money: to balance regular demands on our time. These include work responsibilities, loving relationships, physical and mental wellbeing and individual pursuits.
At some point, however — perhaps because we’re so miserable at it — work-life balance became “work-life blending.” Instead of confronting the reality that our relationship with work is often at odds with personal and family ties, some of us have embraced a fictional, consequence-free environment where anything goes. There are no trade-offs for the decisions we make. With work-life blending, we don’t have to sacrifice anything.
Of course, that’s nonsense. If you’re mentally at the office all the time, there will be consequences. Strained relationships, shorter life expectancy and one-dimensional thinking top the list. Do it for a lifetime, and you’ll likely end up alone. Conversely, if you shirk work, you’ll likely end up fired, unmarketable, outdated and low on income, all of which depress life.
You see, the work-life discussion is really just proof that we can’t have it all. Life involves trade-offs. Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes the reason is that we’ve made bad choices.
Call it what you will, but ambitious professionals will always be confronted with imbalance, discord, competing priorities, compromise and conflicting responsibilities. How we manage the boundaries of life determines whether we find harmony and equilibrium or become self-absorbed, relationship-neglecting workaholics who are unable to live in the moment and look down at glowing objects instead of into peoples’ eyes when they speak.
The day I finally reconciled my professional ambitions with personal obligations was the day I drew up specific boundaries for work, family, friends, health and leisure. “Make time” is a phrase we often hear. To do that, I populate and consult an integrated calendar with separate activities that are as important as they are required of me. If the last six years are any comparison, I’m much better off now.
Since we’re all different, there’s no right way to lead a balanced life. No magic bullet to overcome conflicting work and personal obligations.
Some people incessantly work because they only identity with what they contribute to the world. Master gadget salesman (Steve Jobs), master physicist (Einstein), master composer (Mozart). Others enduringly work to provide for their families or to finance personal interests such as travel, amateur athletics or extreme adventure.
And some do all of the above with just the right mix of passion and responsibility. You may not know them by name. But you can bet they have their sanity.
About the author: Blake Snow is a bodacious writer-for-hire, adroit storyteller and daring content strategist to Fortune 500 companies. Previously, he worked as a featured contributor to top 20 U.S. media. He lives in Provo with his family.